Northwood coach Thomas Parks was fussing at flame-throwing starter Davis Palermo after the first inning for a high pitch count. But he was singing Palermo’s praises at the end of a 1-0 complete game victory over the giant killers of Eastern Alamance on Tuesday.
Palermo fired a one-hitter, whiffing 13 batters, including eight of the last nine Eagles he faced as No. 3 seed Northwood advanced to the East Division semifinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A baseball playoffs. The Chargers will face No. 1 seed Northern Guilford on the road Friday.
“Davis’s pitching performance kind of speaks for itself,” Parks said. He praised the junior’s composure. “He wasn’t scared out there. He went out and challenged each and every hitter.”
But there was that moment of truth at the outset.
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“I was ripping him there in the first inning when he threw 21 pitches,” Parks said. That’s seven or eight pitches to each batter, and it’s going to kill you at the end of the game. He wouldn’t have been able to finish the game if he sat on that pace.” High school rules limit pitchers to 105 pitches a game.
As it turned out, Palermo settled down, and mowed down one after another Eastern Alamance batter. He struck out the side in the first, sixth, and seventh innings.
“I’ve got everything left in the tank,” a pumped-up Palermo said after his spectacular performance. “My arm felt good before the game. I was locating my pitches well. The pitch calling was good by Coach Parks. My defense had my back.”
Like Parks, Palermo acknowledged this wasn’t the Chargers finest moment in the batter's box.
“We’ve just got to make this game count. We didn’t hit the ball that well, but it didn’t matter. We’ve got to just keep pushing forward to the next one,” he said.
Despite a losing record on the season, coming into the game the No. 31 seed Eagles had knocked off No. 5 seed West Carteret and No. 15 seed Cedar Ridge.
Palermo said his teammates didn’t take the late-season Cinderellas for granted.
“Our coach told us to make sure we don’t underestimate any opponent. We took it like we were going after every other game,” he said.
Eastern Alamance coach Randy Ballard wasn’t exactly comfortable with the title of giant killers.
“We just played our game. We started playing with a lot of confidence, and things just worked our way,” Ballard said.
“Even though it’s tough, it’s a grind, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That was our motto when we came in playing with house money,” Ballard said. “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance. It ain’t easy to make it where we are, and here we are. We’re excited about it, but at the same time it’s kind of disappointing.”
If there was any consolation, he said, his team went to the wire in “a helluva baseball game” against one of the best teams in the state. He started only three seniors, so the bulk of his team returns next year, including losing pitcher Jackson Hartley, who surrendered only four hits and struck out 10 batters while going the distance.
The Chargers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when leadoff batter Max Hundley, the center fielder, and second baseman Bryce Davis slammed back-to-back doubles to left center.
“I saw the ball well that last pitch, and it felt good right off the bat,” Davis said of his game-winning RBI. “I knew I was getting some kind of extra bases.”
He credited Hundley for getting him juiced at the plate.
“Max is a great leadoff batter. He always gives me encouragement when he gets on base,” Davis said. “He’s contagious.”
Eastern Alamance finally threatened to score in the top of the fourth when catcher Jordan Hamlett reached first on a controversial error call. The umpire ruled first baseman Zach Sipe pulled his foot off the bag.
Third baseman Adam Weber hit a high chop single halfway down the first base line to put runners at first and second. But first baseman Chase Ebert hit into a double play to end the inning.
The Chargers stranded a pair of runners in the bottom of the inning. Shortstop Logan Crabtree walked, and third baseman Trey Romel laid down a perfect bunt single along the third baseline, but the next two batters failed to advance them.